Destination Guide


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Hangzhou, located some 100 miles south of Shanghai, has long been renowned as one of China’s most prosperous cities, beloved and sought out by many for its memorable natural scenery, as well as well-preserved pagodas, temples and pavilions. The city itself is fast expanding and, like any major Chinese metropolis, parts of it can be overwhelming, fast-paced and noisy. A short way out of town, however, lies the 16-acre West Lake, a beautiful fresh-water lake that is one of the city’s main attractions.


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Villa Vanities - Amanfayun, Hangzhou, China


The Aman group is often criticized for creating gorgeous bubble-like resorts that offer little interaction with their neighbors. Not so at the Amanfayun, which has made a conscious effort to facilitate local immersion. The property is surrounded by rolling mountains and folded into so many shades of green that arriving here feels like stepping into a Zen painting (an especially welcome respite after some days in energetic Shanghai).

Nestled into 35 acres of tea plantations, the property is built on the foundations of an ancient Chinese village, called Fayun. Many of its traditional houses were painstakingly restored and the village’s original layout was kept in tact. The main path that leads through the resort is one of the pilgrimage routes to Lingyin Temple, one of seven Buddhist sanctuaries that encircle the resort, and Aman opted to keep the path open for worshippers and villagers, allowing for an organic and authentic interaction between visitors and locals.

Not everyone will get what the Amanfayun is trying to be, and travelers expecting a glam scene and marble-clad bathrooms will be much happier at the Four Seasons West Lake. Everything at the Amanfayun is stubbornly, beautifully and consistently traditional China. There are no golf carts or shuttle transfers between the restaurants and villas. When you’ve completed your spa treatment at the serene complex on the northern end of the property, you get dressed and walk home across cobblestoned paths lined by bamboo and lush forest and lit by wire-framed lanterns at night.

The individual villa accommodations, designed by Indonesian architect Jaya Ibrahim, are housed in traditional Chinese structures featuring loads of dark-wood beams, lattice-work and shiny stone floors. That the beige-heavy interiors bring to mind the minimalist serenity of monastic life is surely intentional: everything is of the highest quality—high thread count sheets, handcrafted bath amenities, custom-made Elmwood furnishings, floor heating—but there is no excess here. Creaking wooden doors and windows are covered in latticed shutters, which keep the rooms dimly lit even during the day. Due to the ancient structures, bathrooms do not accommodate bathtubs, though the oversized rain showers more than make up for it (and there are three traditional bathhousees with enormous wooden tubs, part of the spa, that can be reserved on a complimentary basis).

Another innovative touch to draw Hangzhou into the resort grounds was to invite four local restaurant owners to open and run their eateries here. Two are managed by Aman, but three others are independent and offer everything from vegetarian temple cuisine to regional Hangzhou specialties. One of the most interesting spots is the Teahouse, headed by a famous Hangzhou tea matriarch, where guests can sample the area’s potent Dragon Well longjing tea. For guests tired of Chinese cuisine, there’s also a good Western restaurant.

Facade - Four Seasons West Lake, Hangzhou, China

Four Seasons West Lake

Designed to blend into the serenity of the natural setting, the low-built resort is situated within a beautifully landscaped park-garden, featuring tons of water elements (lotus ponds, waterfalls, portions of West Lake), so that each public space and most guest rooms come with picturesque views. The architecture is based on the region’s traditional Jiang Nan style, with many of the buildings boasting Pagoda-style rooftops, latticed trellises and shiny, lacquered doors. The traditional feel continues on the interiors as well, though all has been designed with a lot of style and stunning materials, one more luscious than the next.

Whether you’re sampling local cuisine in the soaring dining room of renowned Jin Sha restaurant or taking a dip in the massive outdoor or indoor pool edged by cozy, pillow-topped lounging nooks, all the details are top-notch and work together to create a backdrop that is at once traditional yet also sophisticated, stylish and sexy.

The resort has just 81 accommodations, including three villas. The in-room design is surprisingly restrained—some would say less inspired—compared with the uber-chic public spaces, but the resort’s main clientele tends to be mostly wealthy Chinese, explaining this penchant for more formulaic interiors. The furnishings are polished blond wood, touches of color include painted silk panels above the bed, the bathrooms are large marble-clad extravaganzas and the technology is, of course, first-rate.

The resort is close to all of the city’s main attractions, while also maintaining a tucked-away, serene feeling, thanks to the gorgeous landscaped grounds whose flower-lined paths and willow-framed ponds make the relentless beat of modern China feel blissfully far away.

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